Rwanda has launched a power plant which uses methane gas from Lake Kivu, officials said, adding 26 megawatts (MW) to the grid in a country where only a quarter of the population is connected to an electricity supply.
The KivuWatt plant developed by US Company Contour Global is the first phase in a scheme to add more than 100MW exploiting the lake’s methane. The firm now plans to add 75 MW in three 25 MW instalments between 2018 and 2019.
Rwanda is aiming to give 70 per cent of its 11 million people access to power from the grid, or off-grid supplies, by 2018, up from about 25 per cent now.
Broader access to power is seen as vital to lifting economic growth in Rwanda and across Africa.
“26MW won’t address our energy or power problems but it is an indication of what is possible,” President Paul Kagame said at the inauguration of the plant.
Before the addition of the KivuWatt plant, Rwanda’s installed capacity was 186MW.
The government has said it plans to more than double that to 563MW by 2017-2018. The power plant and methane processing cost $200 million, financed by a private partnership with help from the African Development Bank (AfDB) and development funds, officials said.
Rwanda’s Infrastructure Ministry has said Lake Kivu, which it shares with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, could support production of up to 700 MW. Congo has said it wants to exploit the lake’s methane resources as well.
Based on studies, officials say that unless the methane is reduced in a controlled manner, via extraction or being used to generate power, it risks building up to a level that would lead to the release of toxic gases, and possibly an explosion.
Rwanda last week signed an energy financing deal with the European Union worth $200 million that will help the government meet its target to ensure 70 per cent of the population has access to power by 2018.
In 2015, the government said just 23 per cent of Rwanda’s 11 million population could access the electricity grid or other off-grid sources. Broader access to power is seen as vital to boosting economic growth in Rwanda and across Africa.
The five-year financing agreement, part of an overall package worth 460 million euros, aims to help improve the supply, transmission and distribution of electricity and managing the industry in Rwanda, the EU said in a statement.
“Energy is one of the top priorities for the government of Rwanda,” Rwanda’s Finance Minister Claver Gatete said in the statement, adding that it was vital to reaching the nation’s goal of achieving middle income status by 2020.
The World Bank defines middle income as a nation with gross national income (GNI) per capita of more than $1,045. Rwanda’s stood at $700 in 2014, according to the bank.